The Linen Queen

Written by Patricia Falvey
Review by Kristen Hannum

It’s 1941, and Northern Ireland is part of the Allied war effort. Across the bay, the Irish Free State is nominally neutral, but in fact sympathetic with Germany, the enemy of their enemy, Britain. For the supremely self-centered Sheila McGee, the most beautiful girl in town, it’s meaningless, for neither side offers her a way out of her own misery. Sheila works without dignity at the linen mill and hands over her measly paycheck to her unpleasant mother. When her mill hosts the annual Linen Queen pageant, Sheila sees her chance to escape, for winning comes with a £200 prize. Other opportunities also present themselves – maybe she can use Joel Solomon, a kind-hearted Jewish American officer, to get herself to America. She is blind to Gavin O’Rourke’s suit, since he’s an old friend and a local, just a nice guy who can’t help her break free. Sheila, of course, must learn that in order to be happy she must love others, must truly care about the people and the world. A young evacuee from Belfast may spur her heart.

The book made me think about how small-minded protagonists can be given plenty of room to grow without annoying readers. Falvey wasn’t completely successful. I didn’t like many of the characters in The Linen Queen, and so sympathized with Sheila’s desire to leave. Then again, I didn’t much like Sheila, and so didn’t care as much as I would have otherwise. During the last third of the book, however, as the spunky Sheila begins to care about the war and to love others, including Gavin, Joel, and the evacuee, I too began to care. By the end of the book I was rooting for her – and wishing I’d cared earlier.